Welcome to our family blog!

We began in September 2010 by traveling a portion of the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route that leads to the tomb of Saint James in Santiago, Galicia, in the northwestern corner of Spain. The name of our blog is inspired by the camino, and we'll have many stories (cuentos) to tell! We spent 2010-2011 on an intentional international journey, living and working in Spanish-speaking countries. Since then, we are immersed back in our lives at home but will report on occasional openings and discoveries. Please join us!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Trek above Sorata, meat and cocaine

 Trek above Sorata

Campsite at Laguna Chilata ("chilly lake"?)

This was to be our big trekking weekend. We had purchased the food and contracted for two mules to carry “the kitchen” (as they call the stove, pans and equipment), food for six, tents, and sleep gear up into the mountains. Eusebio, our host, who also has many years of guide experience, was to be our guide. Unfortunately, our hopes were dashed by a thick fog that enveloped us as soon as we got up into the hills. A slow rain started, and did not stop for our entire visit. We measured our hike in “Mount Washingtons”, the 4000 feet from where we usually park in the White Mountains to the summit of Mount Washington at home.
The first day, Friday, we hiked up 4000 feet, one Mount Washington. We camped next to a little lake in a saddle below the snowy summit of Mount Illampu. Arriving there felt just like arriving at the Lake of the Clouds, near the summit of Mount Washington, but without the hut to look forward to. The wind and driving rain made us eager to set up our tents and get into our sleeping bags, though it was only 3 pm. Once there, however, we discovered the limitations to our rented equipment. Tents and sleeping bags with no working zippers made it hard to keep warm, never mind staying out of the way of the rivulets of water that soon invaded the sides of the tent. We put on all our clothes and whiled away the afternoon reading “The Little Prince” in Spanish.
After a short supper in the rain heroically prepared by our guide, Eusebio, and the mule driver, Pedro (their tent had an extra exterior flap for cooking), we went back to bed for a long night of practicing sleeping. Laura and I got to laughing, since the lack of oxygen made us sound like two dogs panting in the hot sun. It is hard to fall asleep when you’re breathing as if you are walking uphill. We did get a lot of practice listening to the rain on the roof of the tent and wondering if the weather would ever clear up.
Unfortunately the morning brought more of the same: pea soup fog, with a possibility of snow above us. We decided to head back down to Sorata. Unfortunately, we were never able to see across the lake from our campsite, which supposedly has an odd configuration of colored rocks that look like eyes, making eerie faces when the lake and its reflection in the water are seen sideways. We never did hike the second Mount Washington, our destination at the glacier’s base, located at 15000 feet. We may have had problems breathing up there anyway. What we did see – a beautiful, desolate subalpine wilderness – made us glad to have made the trip.

Where meat comes from:
I saw an article on meat eating in the US press, and the topic seemed so far away from our experience traveling in the developing world. The article was about how to make consumption of meat seem more real, to appreciate the animals that died, whether to eat met at all, and the like. Here in Bolivia we see death every day. A regular sight in the streets is a wheelbarrow filled with meat parts, like a cow’s head with some fur still attached, the eye gazing out at us from a skinned face.
 Laura and I went for a run and there was a dead dog in the middle of the road, his muzzle frozen in death’s agony. We see exactly what happened, that the dog is not really here anymore. The dog’s expression gives some sense of how it felt. When people in the developing world get meat, they are thankful for having it. It is expensive. The prize for the youth soccer tournament was a sheep. It cost 
First prize at the soccer tournament
a great deal, they said: $35. The winning team would take it home, kill it and appreciate its meat. All the teens here know how to butcher a large animal and do it regularly.
When you can get meat, it keeps hunger away effectively. I am reminded of the Kenyan dish made with kale: “sukumawiki”. The direct translation is “stretches the week”. When you don’t have enough money for meat, sukumawiki staves off hunger for a bit and keeps you strong. Here in the Bolivian highlands, the diet is mainly composed of meat and potatoes, or rather potatoes with a bit of meat on the side. No joke.
All this is not to suggest that we all cart around wheelbarrows full of cow parts. Just to note that a concern for whether we are experiencing the “reality” of our food comes from our very privileged place. We do not have to do any of the messy work of raising, killing or preparing our food. Our wealth has allowed us to step away from this work and yet to keep all the benefits of plentiful, cheap food. Perhaps we should at least visit those places from time to time so we don’t forget where our meat comes from.

Where cocaine comes from:
It comes from the foothills of the Andes in South America, including here in Bolivia. Among the many points of conflict between the US and the Bolivian government is an argument about production of coca, the base element of cocaine. Coca leaf is legal here and is a staple in the Bolivian diet, used as a maté (tea) or chewed. It is a stimulant that reduces hunger and also prevents “soroche”, the altitude sickness that comes from the dramatic changes in altitude involved in travel in the Bolivian highlands. For example, the bus trip from here in Sorata to La Paz, which many take weekly, involves a climb from 8100 feet to 12000 feet. Even today, miners rely on coca leaf to take the elevators underground and work for long hours without enough food.
The Bolivian government has determined the amount of coca that is used for internal consumption, and is working to keep production low enough to meet those legitimate uses. However, the illegal cocaine market keeps the price very high, and coca production is a good way to use one’s land to make more money than, say, raising corn.

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